“Alcatraz Versus the Shattered Lens” by Brandon Sanderson (Scholastic, 2010)

Alcatraz Versus the Shattered Lens

Hey.  Hey you!  Come here.  Are you alone?  No librarians nearby, right?  Yes, librarians.  You heard me right.  Okay, good.  Yes, librarians are evil.  They’re an unstoppable cult that has pulled the wool over everyone’s eyes for a long time.  Everything you think you know isn’t the way it is.  Don’t believe me?  Then be sure to check out the first three volumes of Alcatraz Smedry’s incredible biography – Alcatraz Versus the Evil Librarians, Alcatraz Versus the Scrivener’s Bones, and Alcatraz Versus the Knights of Crystallia – written under the secret name of bestselling author Brandon Sanderson.  Sounds familiar now, right?  Well, keep this quiet, but Alcatraz is back with his next installment, and it’s a doozy!

Alcatraz and his friends and family are preparing for war against the Evil Librarians.  Except, of course, for his mother who is an evil librarian herself (we don’t know the complete story on this yet) and his dad, who has just gone off to who knows where.  The council is still trying to decide how best to handle this when the Evil Librarians lay siege to the city of Mokia.  The council refuses to help at the moment, while the Knights of Crystallia are just hanging about, making sure all the Smedrys are okay.  Alcatraz hatches a stoopid plan; in fact it’s his stoopidest plan yet!  He will travel to Mokia and sneak into the city without getting caught, then he’ll let the Knights of Crystallia know where he is and they’ll have to come save him.  Everything sort of goes according to plan until he comes face to face with the giant robots.

This has got to be Alcatraz’s most gripping adventure yet, where it really seems like he could easily get killed, but then he’s telling his story – pretending to be Brandon Sanderson – so he must make it in the end.  He gets up to his usual stoopid stuff, I mean stupid: like using his and his family’s weird and seemingly useless talents, messing things up with Bastille – even though he really likes her — oh yeah, and not spellings words correctly.  If you’ve read Alcatraz’s early adventures, you won’t want to miss this one!

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Originally written on April 10, 2011 ©Alex C. Telander.

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Alcatraz Versus the Evil Librarians    Alcatraz Versus the Scrivener's Bones    Alcatraz Versus the Knights of Crystallia

“The Secret Journeys of Jack London, Book One: The Wild” by Christopher Golden and Tim Lebbon (HarperCollins, 2011)

Jack London The Wild

We all know of the incredible writings of Jack London, who brought the wild world of nature to life with such unforgettable books as White Fang and Call of the Wild.  He was a man who embraced nature and respected everything it had to offer, but how did he become this man?

The dynamic writing duo of Christopher Golden and Tim Lebbon – who have brought us the entertaining “Hidden Cities” series with The Map of Moments and Mind the Gap – seek to answer this question now with a new series: The Secret Journeys of Jack London.  How did Jack London become the great writer he was?  Through unforgettable experiences, but these stories are the ones he could never quite explain; the ones he could never write about.

In the first book, The Wild, Jack London is a seventeen year-old boy traveling to the frozen wilds of Canada via Alaska, venturing into the dangerous Yukon Territory to play a part in the gold rush.  London quickly makes some new friends who struggle to travel along a wild river with raging rapids and the onset of an early winter, spend their time starving in an isolated cabin, and discover the existence of a gold-planning slave trade.  Then things take a turn for the supernatural and London finds himself on a number of occasions face to face with the fearful Wendigo.

Golden and Lebbon start out a little slow, keeping things normal and adventurous, but then things take a turn for the outright fantastic, with uses folklore and myth.  Readers of any age will be able to identify with this fun-loving, adventurous character who – fantasy elements aside – could well be telling true tales of his possible life.

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Originally written on April 10, 2011 ©Alex C. Telander.

“The Ring of Solomon” by Jonathan Stroud (Hyperion, 2010)

Ring of Solomon

The infamously likable djinni Bartimaeus is back, only this time readers get to see an exciting, adventurous chapter out of his distant past.  Jonathan Stroud, author of the bestselling Bartimaeus trilogy, takes readers back into the ancient world of Jerusalem; 950 BCE to be exact, in The Ring of Solomon.

Even though the disreputable djinni known as Bartimaeus has been around for millennia, since the time of Gilgamesh, he is once again enslaved by the whim and rules of a cruel master, Khaba.  But Khaba, an evil and despicable magician, answers to an even more fearsome master, King Solomon.  It’s not so much that Solomon is a terrifying and evil master, but more that he possesses the most powerful ring in history.  A single twist of the ring brings about armies of monsters and creatures all in abeyance to Solomon, awaiting his every command.  People who disobey Solomon disappear in a flash, never to be seen again.

And yet King Solomon doesn’t have everything he desires.  He has set his heart on the Queen of Sheba, but she’s not interested in him, even though he asks for her hand in marriage weekly.  Then the Queen learns of a plot by Solomon to cause the destruction of all of Sheba, if she doesn’t agree to marry him.  Instead, she decides to send Asmira, her most trained assassin to kill Solomon and steal his ring.  Only Khaba also has his sights on the ring and becoming king of all the lands.  And, naturally, Bartimaeus gets involved in the whole big mess, partially through no fault of his own, and partially because he totally sticks his nose, feet and hands in wholeheartedly.

Stroud brings the lovable character of Bartimaeus back in this great story of intrigue, deception, murder, and terror, as well as fun, hilarity, and even love.  Fans will enjoy reading of Bartimaeus once again, as his vanity knows no limits, in his drive to let everyone know he’s simply the best djinni that has ever existed and even when his essence is in danger, he’s going to be sure to let you know that.

CLICK HERE to purchase your copy from Bookshop Santa Cruz and help support BookBanter.

Originally written on January 24, 2011 ©Alex C. Telander.

“Among the Ghosts” by Amber Benson (Aladdin, 2010)

Among the Ghostsstarstarstarstar

Amber Benson takes a break from Calliope Reaper-Jones and tells an enchanting little story for the younger folk.  In the style of Neil Gaiman’s Coraline and Graveyard Book, Benson creates a unique world of fun characters in a very interesting place, with just enough scariness to keep young readers on the edge of their seats.

Noleen-Anne Harris Morgan Maypother, better known as Noh, is a strange little girl who likes her time to herself; her inquisitive and investigative nature makes her wiser beyond her years, and it seems like fate when she ends up visiting and staying with her aunt who works at the gothic and enchanting New Newbridge Academy.  Noh arrives early before the start of school where there are only teachers and no students yet to walk its high, echoing halls.  But this is a dream come true to her: a giant empty school, like an ancient castle, asking to be explored, filled with mysteries and enigmas.

And then there’s the West Wing, which mysteriously burned down.  As Noh gets to know some of the teachers, she also meets some kids her own age, which shouldn’t be possible since classes haven’t started yet.  It doesn’t take Noh long to realize that these kids are actually all ghosts.  The really strange thing is that you should only be able to see ghosts if you are one too.  And then there’s something that seems to be taking the ghosts, making them disappear for good.

Amber Benson seems to have found a perfect niche with Among the Ghosts, using a simple but descriptive and colorful language style that will keep any reader hooked and interested, as well as providing a compelling mystery that serves to compel her protagonist to find out what’s going on, as well as force the reader to keep reading until the very last page.

CLICK HERE to purchase your copy from Bookshop Santa Cruz and help support BookBanter.

Originally written on October 6 2010 ©Alex C. Telander.

“Coraline” by Neil Gaiman, with illustrations by Dave McKean (HarperCollins, 2002)


Even though rising-to-fame author Neil Gaiman won the American Library Association’s Alex Award as one of 2000’s top ten adult novels for young adults for the novel Stardust, it has still been a while since Gaiman addressed the young adult’s literature corner, still riding on the success of his recent tome, American Gods.  But it is clear with Coraline that Gaiman can still chill your bones whether you’re a kid or an adult.

Coraline is the main character in the wonderful but scary novel about her life with her strange family in her strange apartment with some very strange neighbors.  You see, there is a door in this apartment which leads to the apartment next door, but it is locked and blocked off by a brick wall.  One day Coraline decides to take a look at what’s on the other side of that door and finds the wall gone, with an open space in its place.  Moving inside she finds a mirror image of the apartment she lives, as well as her parents there, only they are not her real parents.

Upon returning to her own apartment, she finds that her parents have gone missing, and she ventures back into the other apartment knowing that her fake parents have kidnapped her real parents, and it is up to her to save them.  She also finds a couple of friends in the other apartment who have been in this crazy world for a very long time.  In this world her fake mother is in control, ad she’s quite evil.  It is up to Coraline to stop her fake mother somehow, rescue her real parents, as well as her new friends.

In this wonderful novel that is part horror, part mystery, part thriller, and mostly a great kid’s story, the creator of the Sandman series brings us into some of the darkest dreams that children can have, and it is up to Gaiman to leads us through the right door.

CLICK HERE to purchase your copy from Bookshop Santa Cruz and help support BookBanter.

Originally published on December 9th, 2002.

Originally published in the Long Beach Union.

“The Paper Doorway: Funny Verse and Nothing Worse” by Dean Koontz, Illustrated by Phil Parks (HarperCollins, 2001)

The Paper Doorwaystarstarstar

When I heard about The Paper Doorway I thought Dean Koontz had had a midlife crisis or something and decided to start writing children’s books, but apparently this is his second delving into the world of the littleluns, having published another children’s book, Santa’s Twin.  And now he brings us this ditty, wonderfully illustrated by Phil Sparks, as you are taken into a world that has a different dimension on every page, approaching the scary and horrific in places, but then jumping back to the humorous and plain zany!

The Monstrous Broccoli Excuse

You see, I don’t like broccoli.
And broccoli does not like me.
It crawls into my room at night
Giving me a monstrous fright.

It scratches at the closet door,
Slithers-rustles across the floor.
This vegetable terminator
Has escaped the refrigerator.

This isn’t merely in my head.
It is really there under my bed.
Oh, Mom, how can I eat, you see,
A fearsome food that would eat me?

If you liked this review and are interested in purchasing this book, click here.

Originally published on April 1st 2002.

Originally published in the Long Beach Union.

“Quidditch Through Ages” & “Fantastic Beats & Where to Find Them” by J. K. Rowling (Arthur A. Levine, 2002)

A Pair of Hogwarts Specials

Quidditch & Beastsstarstarstarstar

The most recent Harry Potter books to be released was Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, which came out during the summer of 2000.  The next book in the series of seven, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix has been slated for a summer/fall 2002 release.  The question remains to the many, man fans is what to read in the meantime?  Fortunately J. K. Rowling has produced two chapbooks, Quidditch Through the Ages and Fantastic Beasts & Where to Find Them, whose proceeds go towards Comic Relief.

“Comic Relief is one of Britain’s most famous and successful charities.  Begin in 1985, the organization has raised more than $250 million for such charities as the Red Cross, Oxfam, Sight Savers, the International HIV/AIDS Alliance, and Anti-Slavery International.  A special ‘Harry’s Books’ fund has been created where proceeds from the sale of Quidditch Through the Ages and Fantastic Beasts & Where to Find Them will go to support children’s causes throughout the world.  Every book sold counts!  Fifty cents will send a child to school for a week – and change his or her life forever” – A Note from J. K. Rowling.

Quidditch Through the Ages by Kennilworthy Whisp (WhizzHard Books, 56 pages. 14 sickles 3 knuts): For the first time ever, a most unique book has been published and released into the muggle world.  In these pages you will find not only complete details on how to play the amazing wizard sport of Quidditch, but also a comprehensive history of the game, from its beginning stages to how it is currently played.  There is also a complete listing of all the Quidditch teams of Britain, as well as some of the major international teams, including America’s own Sweetwater All-Stars from Texas, and the Fitchburg Finches from Massachusetts.

In this book will also be found a history of the many brooms  that have been used in the world of Quidditch, as well as a full listing of the major moves that can be performed during the game.  Enough of baseball and football, Quidditch is the game of the future!

Fantastic Beasts & Where to Find Them by Newt Scamander (Obscurus Books, 42 pages, 14 sickles 3 knuts): Paired with the release of Quidditch Through the Ages, there is the concise compendium of monsters and beasts.  You know you’ve seen strange things, shapes and shadows you can’t explain; monsters you tell yourself don’t exist, especially not in any book!  Well, with Fantastic Beasts you will find out the truth: what the beast is called, how dangerous it is, what it exactly looks like, and how to beware it.  The book is arranged in alphabetical order, along with a special foreword by none other than Albus Dumbledore, headmaster of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.  Together with a Ministry of Magic (M.O.M.) Classification on how dangerous the beast is: XXXXX – Known wizard killer/impossible to train or domesticate (like the Acromantula); XXXX – Dangerous/requires specialist knowledge/skilled wizard may handle (like the Demiguise); XXX – Competent wizard should cope (like the Fwooper); XX – Harmless/may be domesticated (like the Ramora); and X – Boring (like the Horklump).

This book is a must for all who wish to survive in this unusual world where you know everything that goes bump in the night.

If you liked this review and are interested in purchasing these books, click here.

Originally published on March 18th 2002.

Originally published in the Long Beach Union.